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Chiozza, Florida steal game from Missouri

Chiozza, Florida steal game from Missouri

January 7th, 2018 by Colin O'Brien in College Sports

Florida's Chris Chiozza goes up for a layup to score the game-winning basket in the final seconds of Saturday afternoon's game against Missouri at Mizzou Arena.

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — In a tie game with 12 seconds left and Missouri in possession of the ball, to the packed crowd in Mizzou Arena, the worst-case scenario against Florida looked like overtime Saturday afternoon.

Instead, Chris Chiozza ripped the heart out of Missouri and sucked the life out of the building with defensive anticipation. His steal with four seconds left and lay-in with :00.1 remaining gave the Gators a 77-75 win.

"He's really smart, he's an extremely quick thinker, and he's got extremely quick feet," Florida head coach Mike White said. "He understands the game, he's an older guard and he just happened to sniff it out.

"It was a gamble, and it paid off."

Chiozza's winning layup gave the Gators their first lead since the 13:51 mark of the second half.

Florida (11-4, 3-0 SEC) finished the game on a 7-0 run, and the most excruciating part of the loss is the Tigers otherwise took better care of the ball. Their 11 turnovers is four below their season average, but the last one was the difference-maker.

"It hurts. A lot. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter, the turnovers at this point, but the fact that that last turnover was how we lost the game hurts," Missouri forward Jordan Barnett said.

Barnett scored a career-high 28 points, made 6-of-9 shots from 3-point range and led Missouri (11-4, 1-1 SEC) with nine rebounds.

"I don't remember a guy making this big a jump in one year," White said of Barnett. "This guy was a good player last year. He's terrific.

"Off the top of my head, I can't imagine there is a more improved player in our league."

Kassius Robertson was the only other Missouri player to score in double figures with 12, and the plan was to get him the ball for the last shot.

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said the play worked as designed. Egor Koulechov was defending Robertson from 10 feet away after Jontay Porter set a screen and as the pass came from Jordan Geist, Chiozza read it perfectly from the other side of the court and got there at the same time as ball and poked it free.

"We still have to figure out how to finish games," Barnett said. "There's been a lot of situations this season where we've had leads late and we just lose them, we almost collapse. So still a work in progress.

"This game hurts, it angers us. A lot. And the best thing we can do is take that anger and channel it and use it on Wednesday."

Jalen Hudson led five Gators scoring in double figures with 16 points. Koulechov added 15, Keith Stone and Chiozza each scored 13 and KeVarrius Hayes chipped in 10.

Jeremiah Tilmon played just eight minutes for the Tigers, and while he was effective when he was on the floor, scoring eight points, he struggled again with foul trouble in a game that was called very tight by the officiating crew. There were three particular fouls called on Missouri in the second half, one each on Tilmon, Jontay Porter and Robertson, that on replay did not show contact with Florida players.

Tilmon fouled out guarding Chiozza, who drove into the lane and made a lateral move to avoid the 6-foot-10 freshman.

Porter whiffed blocking a Stone dunk but Stone sent the ball off the back of the iron and the official blew his whistle only after Stone missed the dunk.

And the most influential foul call was the one on Robertson with 21 seconds left that gave Hudson three free throws with the Gators down two. Hudson made two of them to tie the game at 75, and the only contact on his shot looked like Hudson flaring his leg to hit Robertson on the closeout.

Robertson said he didn't want to address the game's officiating. After addressing the team could have done things better down the stretch and crediting Florida for winning, Martin said, "It was a tough game for me and I guess I have to keep my mouth closed on a lot of things. I've never been one to say anything but it was very, very tough for me, very tough for me if you know what I'm saying. It was tough for me, and I'm not a complainer, I respect all — but it was hard."

The concern for Missouri is poise down the stretch and finding a consistent third scorer. Barnett shows no indication of cooling off and Robertson made 2-of-3 3-pointers and all four of his free throws, and they have been Missouri's main threats.

The good news for the Tigers is they came close, even with Porter and Tilmon both contending with foul trouble for the entire second half. Porter scored nine and dished out six of Missouri's nine assists.

"Cuonzo has done an amazing job," White said. "For them to be playing as well as they are right now in such a short period of time is amazing. Defensively, they just put you in tough spots. They've got stretch guys, especially with the development in conference games of Porter and the way he's shooting the ball. Do you switch, do you not switch? He rolls you into the post, he's so skilled.

"They exposed us, defensively, a bunch, as they will moving forward and as they have in the past. They're a very difficult team to defend."

Missouri's defense held a talented offensive opponent at or below its season average, and in its first game without Blake Harris — who had the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio at guard — the Tigers cut down on their turnovers.

It just so happened that one mistake, one turnover, was the margin of error between a win — or overtime — and a loss.

Missouri's next game is 8 p.m. Wednesday at home against a talented Georgia team. The Bulldogs are 11-3, 2-1 in the SEC and beat Alabama 65-46 Saturday afternoon at home.